Viscous?

Every student had a container with an unknown liquid and a chart listing various characteristics: bubbly? foamy? translucent? transparent? viscous? The teacher tried to walk the first graders through the science lesson.

I picked up the girl I’m tutoring, who can read “Sim hit the big fig” — with help on the Sim/Sam issue — but doesn’t know what a fig is. I said it was a purple fruit, but didn’t discuss its viscosity.

When I was in first grade, I learned to distinguish a maple leaf from an oak leaf. That was pretty much the whole science curriculum until we hit fifth grade, which featured the duck-billed platypus.

Teaching good behavior

Behavior Is One of the Basics at a Charleston middle school, reports Education Week. Every Haut Gap student spends 40 minutes a day for nine weeks learning how to “own up to mistakes, accept feedback, and apologize appropriately.” Those who don’t catch on take the class for 18 weeks.

The school’s approach, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, is supposed to save time in academic classes. It’s also cut out-of-school suspensions significantly.

PBIS . . . emphasizes creating a common set of expectations for students’ behavior, no matter where they are on campus. The underlying premise: Schools must become predictable, consistent, positive, and safe environments for students.

“Creating that common set of expectations is really what creates a learning community. Culture makes a huge impact on the effectiveness of the school,” said Robert Horner, a co-director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and a special education professor at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.

PBIS is seen as a way to cut suspensions and expulsions, which are more common for African-American students, Latinos, boys, and students with disabilities.

However, a Johns Hopkins study found PBIS helped elementary students with “behavior problems, concentration problems, and social-emotional functioning.”  Not surprisingly, the younger it starts the better it works.

Florida sets lower goals for blacks, Hispanics

Florida’s race-based achievement goals are raising hackles, reports the Palm Beach Post. To qualify for a No Child Left Behind waiver, the state board of education set new goals based on race, ethnicity, poverty and disabilities.

. . .  by 2018, it wants 90 percent of Asian students, 88 percent of white students, 81 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of black students to be reading at or above grade level. For math, the goals are 92 percent of Asian kids proficient, whites at 86 percent, Hispanics at 80 percent and blacks at 74 percent.

The new goals are realistic, state education officials said. Blacks and Hispanics will have to improve at faster rates than whites or Asians.

. . .  the percentage of white students scoring at or above grade level (as measured by whether they scored a 3 or higher on the reading FCAT) was 69 percent in 2011-2012, according to the state. For black students, it was 38 percent, and for Hispanics, it was 53 percent.

If each subgroup follows the trajectory in the strategic plan, all students will be 100 percent proficient by the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state education department.

Most of the states applying for NCLB waivers have set lower goals for black, Hispanic, low-income and disabled students. As long as the goals require low-scoring groups to improve more quickly, the U.S. Education Department has endorsed differential targets.

College readiness isn’t just academic

Even if they’re prepared academically for college, many students don’t understand college expectations, behaviors and attitudes, researchers say. What does it mean to “study hard” or “come prepared” to class? Students are used to high school teachers who tell students exactly what to do — and let them slide if they don’t do it.

Culture clash in the classroom

Lisa Delpit’s Multiplication Is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children argues that “low performance begins with American racism,” writes Mark Bauerlein in Ed Next.

Black males perform poorly because “our young men have internalized all of the negative stereotypes.” Sometimes black students are invisible, unnoticed, and disrespected, and sometimes they are “hypervisible,” their normal youth behaviors magnified into pathologies. They end up estranged from school culture (“disidentification”), mistrusting their own capacities and fulfilling belittling expectations.

. . . The classroom is a white, middle-class space often hostile to African American norms. It downplays collaboration, she notes, even though these students need it to “feel more secure and less vulnerable.” It ignores past contributions to learning and science by African Americans. It neglects spirituality, whereas “traditional African education” incorporates “education for the spirit” into everyday lessons.

The demoralization is demonstrated by a middle schooler who announces, “Black people don’t multiply; black people just add and subtract. White people multiply.”

“The clash of school culture with African American out-of-school culture” is a significant problem, Bauerlein writes, but he’s not persuaded that cultural sensitivity is sufficient to produce high performance.

Delpit lauds a math lesson based on racial profiling. A student says, “Now I realize that you could use math to defend your rights and realize the injustices around you.”

Bauerlein is skeptical:

But what about the math scores those students attain in 12th grade? What grades do they get in first-year college calculus? Delpit claims that schools impart the message that “you must give up identifiably African American norms in order to succeed,” but she never shows that embracing those norms produces higher college enrollment or workplace readiness.

The “no excuses” schools explicitly teach school culture — aim high, work hard, show respect, don’t quit– to low-income black and Hispanic students. Inner-city Catholic schools often do the same, writes Patrick McCloskey in The Street Stops Here. Students may embrace street culture when they walk out the door — they may need to — but not in school.

Here’s an Ed Week interview with Delpit.

NCLB waivers let states set goals by race

Virginia will revise its new goals for student achievement, but will continue to set “different achievement goals for students according to race, family income and disability,” reports the Washington Post.  That’s OK with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The Obama administration has allowed states to set different goals for different groups of students, as long as the low-performing students are required to make greater rates of progress, so that the gap between struggling students and high-achieving students is cut in half over six years.

The District and 27 of the 33 states that have received waivers from the Obama administration under No Child Left Behind have also set new goals that call for different levels of achievement for different groups of students.

In Maryland, for example, state officials say they want Asian students to progress from 94.5 percent proficient in math in 2011 to 97 percent by 2017. During the same period, the state wants black students to improve from 68 percent to 84 percent. The black students are expected to reach a lower endpoint but they would have to improve at a faster rate.

Virginia’s goals qualified the state for a NCLB waiver. While 89 percent of Asian students and 78 percent of whites are expected pass state math tests in 2017, only 65 percent of Hispanics, 57 percent of blacks and 49 percent of special-education students are expected to pass.

Virginia schools: ‘together and unequal’

“Together and unequal” is the new motto for Virginia schools, writes Andrew Rotherham, a former state school board member, in the Washington Post. With No Child Left Behind’s rewrite in limbo, Education Secretary Arne Duncan allowed states to set new performance targets. Virginia “took the stunning step of adopting dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.”

President George W. Bush famously talked of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in education, meaning the subtle ways educators and policymakers shortchange some students by expecting less of them.

Virginia’s new policy is anything but subtle. For example, under the new rules, schools are expected to have 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning math tests but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of low-income students. The goals for special-education students are even lower, at 49 percent. Worse, those targets are for 2017. The intermediate targets are even less ambitious — 36 percent for special-education students this year, for instance. Goals for reading will be set later.

Instead of setting lower targets for minority and poor students, Virginia could “provide substantially more support to these students and their schools,” writes Rotherham, a partner at the nonprofit Bellwether Education and an education columnist for Time.

The expectations aren’t high for any students (except maybe Asians), Rotherham adds on Eduwonk.

Virginia doesn’t give parents much choice if they’re not satisfied with the neighborhood school, he notes.

There are fewer than a handful of charter schools in the Commonwealth and Virgina’s charter school law consistently is ranked among the nation’s worst by policy organizations, public school choice is vociferously resisted, and county borders are treated like international lines when it comes to almost any hint of letting students cross them for better schooling options. I’m not a big supporter of private school choice but if the best Virginia can do is say to citizens and parents that its public schools will have 59 percent of poor students and 57 percent of black students passing state tests five years from now then what exactly is the argument for not allowing their parents to seek out better options?

The Obama administration signed off on Virginia NCLB waiver, Rotherham writes. Are they OK with this?

Instead of rules, set procedures

Don’t spend time and energy establishing and enforcing classroom rules, writes Coach G. Provide  ”clear procedures” that give kids structure. “You can’t do your best at anything if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.”

Barbie was right: Math is hard

The Is algebra necessary? debate is “insanely pointless,” writes Education Realist.

Elementary students do quite well in math, but stumble in higher grades when the math gets harder — even though their teachers know much more math, ER writes. “We have all forgotten the Great Wisdom of Barbie.” Math is hard.

In California, at least, tens of thousands of high school kids are sitting in math classes that they don’t understand, feeling useless, understanding deep in their bones that education has nothing to offer them. Meanwhile, well-meaning people who have never spent an hour of their lives trying to explain advanced math concepts to the lower to middle section of the cognitive scale pontificate about teacher ability, statistics vs. algebra, college for everyone, and other useless fantasies that they are allowed to engage in because until our low performers represent the wide diversity of our country to perfection, no one’s going to ruin a career by pointing out that this a pipe dream. And of course, while they’re engaging in these fantasies, they’ll blame teachers, or poverty, or curriculum, or parents, or the kids, for the fact that their dreams aren’t reality.

“Kids stuck in the hell of unfair expectations will go nowhere,” ER concludes.

 

Gray expectations

College success requires academic preparation — and understanding academic expectations.

In Teaching across the cultural divide, a foreign-born student with poor writing skills threatens to give the adjunct a bad online rating unless she gets an A.